July 21, 2009

Erin Andrews video spreads virus on Web

Posted: 11:02 AM ET

Some links to a video of an ESPN reporter undressing in her hotel room carry a computer virus, according to a security analyst.

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, a computer security company, told CNN that the viral video of Erin Andrews gives hackers an opportunity to compromise Mac and PC machines.

Someone reportedly shot the video of Andrews through her hotel room's peephole. A lawyer for Andrews says the reporter - voted "America's Sexiest Sportscaster" last year by Playboy magazine - was unaware she was being taped, according to CNN affiliate WESH.

"There was a genuinely huge news story about this poor woman who had been filmed this way, and the hackers jumped on that and thought, 'Fantastic, everyone is going to be looking for this, let’s create fake Web sites and infect them,'" Cluley said.

It's unclear how many people have been infected with the virus or if computers have been harmed by the incident, Cluley said. The virus gets on computers when people try to play the video of Andrews, he said. A message asks Internet users to download a video player and a virus instead infects their machines, he said.

The virus gives hackers the ability to do just about whatever they want with your computer, Cluley said.

Searches for the naked video of Andrews were spiking this morning on Google, according to Google Trends. The two hottest searches on the site are related to the video.

Cluley urged people not to look for the clip.

"If you want to look at naked women buy yourself an adult magazine or go and get yourself a girlfriend," he said. "Searching on the Web is a really dangerous thing to do."

Writing for CNET, a content partner, Chris Matyszczyk says the video first was uploaded to the French site

"Naturally, it then wandered across the Internet like a rodent in search of Camembert," he writes.

The video is flying across the Web on social networks, Cluley said, adding that shortened Web links, such as those from and, add to the problem because Internet users can't tell where the links go until they click them.

Firefox users can download a longurl add-on to address that problem, he said.

What do you all make of this incident? Any security tips? Feel free to chime in with comments.

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Filed under: computer security

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July 20, 2009

How to e-mail Grandma if she doesn't have a computer

Posted: 10:03 AM ET

Keeping in touch with older relatives can be challenging when they don't use e-mail. You can't send grandparents digital photos unless they're techno-savvy, so you'll have to find a decent printer or pay to print them out. Then, you have to put it all in an envelope, and stick on proper postage. But maybe you're traveling and don't have time for all that, or don't want to feel stuck in the 1990s.

A new Web site called Sunnygram is helping update and enhance communications between young people and their relatives who do not use the Internet.

Co-founder Matt Ahart was inspired to start the service when he found himself sending e-mails to his mother so that she could print them out and show them to his grandmother. What if there were a service that could facilitate electronic correspondence between people and their grandparents?

The idea is simple: Your older relative gets an e-mail address that you can write to, and Sunnygram prints out your messages and photos and sends it via snail mail in a weekly "newsletter" that's a lot prettier than an e-mail printout. Then, the relative has the option of responding in writing on personalized stationary, or electronically by calling a phone number and leaving a voice message, which gets transcribed and sent to you in an e-mail. The service provides unlimited e-mail and photo printing, and any number of family members and friends can correspond with the designated holder of the e-mail address.

Sunnygram also reminds you when a special occasion is coming up, such as Mother's Day or Father's Day, in addition to reminding you to write to your relative if you haven't in a while. "Our users can rest assured that Grandma won’t be forgotten," Ahart said.

Since launching in April, Sunnygram has been adding customers around the U.S. and the world, including members of the military writing to their elderly relatives. And some people are using it to bridge communication gaps that don't necessarily have to do with age. Sunnygram has been used among family members of people in prison. "It’s not just about age or technological savvy - sometimes other circumstances in their lives cause them to not be able to check email, but to have access to mail, so we step up in that situation," Ahart said.

The service costs $9.95 a month, with a one-month free trial. The service will also soon launch a Facebook application, Ahart said.

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Filed under: Internet

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Meet the strange moons of Mars

Posted: 08:00 AM ET

Famous for its reddish color, Mars has long fascinated astronomers, ordinary sky gazers and science-fiction writers.

But its strange, tiny moons also deserve plenty of attention, especially since one of them has been suggested as a way for humans to get to the planet itself.

“To reach Mars, we should use comets, asteroids and Mars’s moon Phobos as intermediate destinations. No giant leaps this time. More like a hop, skip and a jump,” Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, wrote recently in an article in Popular Mechanics. Read more about the moon vs. Mars debate

Phobos is one of two Martian moons, with Deimos keeping it company in space.

Just 13 miles across, Phobos orbits so close to Mars that it may be shattered by the Red Planet’s gravitational tidal forces in about 100 million years, according to NASA.

You can see its battered, pockmarked surface in the photo above, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last year. The Stickney Crater, which takes up almost half its diameter, is on the lower right.

Some astronomy Web sites call Phobos potato-shaped and that’s a good way to describe it!

Think Phobos is small? Deimos is even tinier, at about 7.5 miles in diameter. If you were to stand on the surface of Mars, it would look light a bright star, NASA says.

And here’s a bit of mythology to add to your astronomy knowledge. You may know that Mars was named after the Roman god of war. So in keeping with the tone, Phobos (“Fear”) and Deimos (“Terror”) were named after the horses that pulled the chariot of Ares, the Greek god of war and the counterpart to Mars.

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Filed under: Astronomy • Mars • NASA • Space

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July 16, 2009

The forgotten almost-moon men

Posted: 02:13 PM ET

Only 12 men have had the honor of walking on the moon, but six astronauts were in charge of getting them there and bringing them home safely. These were the command service module pilots, whose job it was to circle the moon and return to Earth - without setting a foot on the lunar surface.

These six people are often overshadowed by the moonwalkers. Their stories are worth telling, though, especially in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing.

The first CSM pilot is the most famous. Michael Collins flew on the Apollo 11 mission, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon for the first lunar landing. He circled the orb for nearly a day in solitude. For 48 minutes out of each orbit he was out of radio contact with Earth.

In his autobiography, Collins wrote "this venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two." He also said he never felt lonely, but "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation."

Richard Gordon, commander of the Yankee Clipper – the Apollo 12 CSM, was the second to orbit the moon while others walked on the surface. While he circled, he mapped out potential landing sites for future missions. He was slated to walk on the moon in the Apollo 18 mission, but that mission was canceled.

Stuart Roosa spent 33 hours in orbit during Apollo 14. His skill as the CSM pilot was needed after initial attempts to dock with the lunar module failed.

Alfred Worden was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most isolated human being” while he was orbiting the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. When the Endeavour was at its greatest distance from the lunar crew, Worden was 2,235 miles away from any other human being.

Ken Mattingly is probably well known for his actions on the ground of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, but he finally did get to go to the moon for the Apollo 16 launch. Mattingly used instruments aboard Casper to map a stretch of the lunar surface all around its equator.

The final mission, Apollo 17, put Ronald Evans in control of the command module, America. Evans holds the record of more lunar time in orbit than anyone else: 147 hours, 48 minutes.

Each of these men spent countless days training next to their more-heralded moonwalker colleagues. Yet, while their capsule brethren actually touched another heavenly body, these brave astronauts could only stare out their window and marvel at the view.

- Larry Frum

Filed under: NASA • Space

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July 15, 2009

Listen to the Apollo 11 mission on 40 year delay

Posted: 06:36 PM ET

John Stoll lives amongst about 38,000 hours worth of audio recordings.

As NASA's lead audio engineer, it's his job to take care of these tapes and files, which record every second of every NASA mission since the U.S. space agency started sending chimpanzees into space, he said.

On Thursday, Stoll will start playing what amounts to his opus.

He will share with the world the audio recordings from the Apollo 11 mission, which put the first man on the moon. All 190 hours of the mission will stream on NASA's Web site, coinciding exactly with the dates and times of the original mission - only on a 40-year delay.

The mission recordings will begin playing at about 7:30 a.m. ET on Thursday and will continue for eight days, ending at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday July 24, NASA says.

Those who don't want to listen to the whole, 190-hour broadcast can find some highlight clips here.

In their entirety, the recordings offer a gritty, real-life take on history that you can't find in books or old television footage, Stoll said.

His favorite part, of course, is the moon landing, which happened at 4:18  p.m. ET on July 20, 1969, and will be broadcast at the same time on Monday.

On the recording, you hear the NASA flight director in one ear and the audio feed from the moon in the other. At about the time Neil Armstrong announces that "the Eagle has landed," Stoll said, the flight director's voice is tense as he has to figure out whether to declare the landing a success or to pull back. Stoll said he never felt that tension until he listened to the raw recordings.

"That call, it was just really cool to listen to because everything is just happening so fast," he said, "and you don’t get to hear that, especially if you see it from the outside."

Stoll said he and other NASA employees in Houston, Texas, are in the process of digitizing NASA's entire audio collection, most of which is on old-fashioned tape. The older tapes, like the ones from Apollo missons, are in great conditon and are kept under strict environmental controls, he said. But newer tapes, like those from the 1980s, tend to gum up reel players. He has to heat those tapes to 130 degrees with a small oven before he can play them.

All of that work will soon culminate in a public Web site where people can listen to NASA audio from many other U.S. space missions.

That site should go up in two months or so, he said.

But it's probably best to get through the eight days of Apollo recordings before you worry about more.

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Filed under: NASA

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NASA to junk space station in 2016

Posted: 10:33 AM ET

After a decade of costly construction, the International Space Station is nearing completion. But NASA won't have long to enjoy the achievement.

According to an article from the Washington Post, NASA space station program manager Michael T. Suffredini raised eyebrows when, at a public hearing last month, he declared flatly that NASA plans to de-orbit the station in 2016.

That means the $100 billion research facility, which has been circling Earth since 1998, will ultimately burst into flames as it reenters the Earth's atmosphere and crashes into the Pacific Ocean.

Budget constraints and the lack of a shuttle program, which is set to retire in 2010, may have persuaded NASA to end the space station program.

The Washington Post explains:

The rap on the space station has always been that it was built primarily to give the space shuttle somewhere to go. Now, with the shuttle being retired at the end of 2010, the station is on the spot. U.S. astronauts will be able to reach the station only by getting rides on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

There is no official lobbying to extend the mission, but NASA's plans have met with criticism. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) argues, "If we've spent a hundred billion dollars, I don't think we want to shut it down in 2015."

While speaking to a panel charged by the Obama administration with reviewing the entire human spaceflight program, Nelson affirmed, "My opinion is it would be a travesty to de-orbit this thing... If we get rid of this darned thing in 2015, we're going to cede our leadership in human exploration."

What do you feel should be done with the International Space Station? Does the initial $100 billion investment justify extending the program, or should we simply cut our losses and look toward a new future of space exploration?

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Filed under: Astronomy • International Space Station • NASA • science • Space

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July 14, 2009

Who should pay for online news?

Posted: 12:24 PM ET

Last week the New York Times e-mailed a survey to its print subscribers to ask how they felt about paying for online content.

According to the survey:

The New York Times website,, is considering charging a monthly fee of $5.00 to access its content, including all its articles, blogs and multimedia. All of this content is currently available for free.

The recession has not been kind to print news publishers. Several large newspapers such as The Rocky Mountain News have closed their doors for good, while others like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have become Web-only publications. But advertising alone may be unable to sustain many news services, and publishers are scrambling to find new online sources of revenue.

Dwindling profits are also causing media companies to become more possessive of the news they generate.

In an article from the New York Times, Associated Press executives say they are concerned about news forums around the Web, including major search engines and aggregators like the Drudge Report, that link to news articles without paying licensing fees.

A group of European publishers is even pushing for new laws restricting online news distribution that, Ars Technica claims, "amounts to a long-winded rant against the Internet for stealing their news."

After years of easily accessible free news online, can the New York Times or any media company successfully retreat to a subscription-based method to monetize and control content?

Would you pay for access?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • technology

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July 13, 2009

Office 2010 and iPhone bricks

Posted: 10:40 AM ET

Sometimes you come back from the weekend already feeling behind. Here are a few of the latest tech stories to help you get back up to speed:

Microsoft Office 2010 gets the buzz award of the day. The new version of the mammoth computer applicaiton suite, which will be released to a select group today,  is expected to challenge Web-based applications, like Google Docs, which have been gaining popularity. From TechCrunch:

As a direct challenge to Google Apps, Microsoft is rolling out lightweight, FREE, Web-browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. All based in the cloud, the web-based versions of these products have less features than their desktop cousins but still give users basic tools to edit and change documents.

More on what Office 2010 means in the big scheme of things from CNET:

According to Microsoft, the focus of this update was on three things: to make work flows more efficient; to effectively use Web applications to make your work available anywhere; and to make collaboration with others much easier.

Mashable has a good post on location-based phone services. A new survey says the number of people using location-based services will double to 5.7 million this year. The rise in GPS-enabled smartphones - those that know where you are and act like mini-computers - accounts for much of the increase.

Some cool ways to use these services, from the blog:

Apps are responding in kind. Zhiing is a new mobile app for sending friends your location as quickly as possible, Yowza sends you coupons based on what stores are nearby, and Google Latitude helps map out where you and all of your friends are. This type of information helps get the most relevant information to you as quickly as possible. Weather forecasts, nearby friends, and local train schedules are automatic.

For the parents among us, BusinessWeek has an interesting story on the federal government's slashing of a program to put more technology in schools. Check out the story for the details of the impact, but the core of the story is in this factoid:

The Obama Administration in May proposed slashing funding for Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), one of the main government sources of technology for public schools, to $100 million in 2010, a 63% decline from this year's $269 million.

Finally, for those looking to purchase some of the many new gadgets out there - especially the iPhone 3G S - take note of this Ars Technica post, which says bricks instead of phones are turning up in some retail boxes. But don't blame the Apple store, the site says:

The general consensus, however, is that customers themselves are responsible for the large majority of these cases. People purchase an expensive item, take it home, replace it with bricks, and sometimes even shrinkwrap the box for a return. Many retail stores won't check a box that looks like it was never opened in the first place, making this an easy switch to pull.

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Filed under: gps • iPhone • Microsoft Corp. • Microsoft Office • schools • technology

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July 10, 2009

Yes, I clubbed baby seals

Posted: 10:18 AM ET

As a gamer for many years, I’ve had to kill monsters, demons, mutants, Sith and other virtual targets. But until now, I’ve never had to kill baby seals.

Blame the new video game, "Overlord II," which lets you become an evil ruler who is bent on taking over the world from the Empire (think Romans). When I started, I was a minor overlord with limited abilities and minions. To increase my strengths and horde of followers, I had to gather Life Force, which is released by baby seals as they die.

So I ordered my minions – small, goblin-like creatures that obey your every command - to club the cute, wide-eyed seal pups.

My initial thought was, 'Oh my God, I'm killing baby seals.' But after the initial shock, the attacks on the baby seals almost become amusing. The slaughter is not bloody or gory and is obviously conceived with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

I have to say, the minions are quite good at this task. They believe they are getting revenge for the fish the seals eat, which adds to the humor factor.

You might expect PETA or other animal-rights groups to be all riled up about this feature, which was not present in the first "Overlord" game. (Triumph Studios developed "Overlord II," which is rated T - meaning acceptable for teens.) Yet there's been hardly a peep online about the "mistreatment" of the seals.

I’m still early in the game, and I’m very curious to see if "Overlord II's" designers ramp up the “killing cute creatures” factor as I progress. Is that a litter of kittens I see on the horizon?

– Larry Frum

Filed under: video games

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July 7, 2009

Best Buy sells netbook for 99 cents*

Posted: 10:20 AM ET

For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, Best Buy will sell you a 1.60GHz Atom-powered netbook from Compaq. The catch, and it's a big one, is that you must sign a two-year EV-DO data service agreement with Sprint.

The practice of subsidizing mobile phones with service contracts is quite popular, but this is the first time I have seen a netbook sold in this fashion.

According to Sprint's Web site, 3G mobile data plans start at $59.99/month. So over two years, that $1 netbook would actually set you back nearly $1,440.

Tom's Hardware notes the Compaq 110c-1040DX netbook retails for $389.99 without any additional features, and admits the "$1,440 bill may sound a bit hefty," but contends "consumers looking for new hardware and mobile Internet service may find a great value here."

How do you feel about the hardware-and-wireless-service bundles that dominate the cell phone market coming to portable computers?

Personally, signing a two-year contract for a netbook sounds about as appealing as mayonnaise left in the sun...but maybe that's just my fear of commitment.

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Filed under: computers • consumer tech

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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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